Understanding Demographic Risk Factors for Adverse Outcomes in COVID-19 Patients: Explanation of a Deep Learning Model

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Healthcare Informatics Research




Artificial intelligence; Coronavirus disease; Deep neural network; Explainable AI


© 2021, This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply. This study was to understand the impacts of three key demographic variables, age, gender, and race, on the adverse outcome of all-cause hospitalization or all-cause mortality in patients with COVID-19, using a deep neural network (DNN) analysis. We created a cohort of Veterans who were tested positive for COVID-19, extracted data on age, gender, and race, and clinical characteristics from their electronic health records, and trained a DNN model for predicting the adverse outcome. Then, we analyzed the association of the demographic variables with the risks of the adverse outcome using the impact scores and interaction scores for explaining DNN models. The results showed that, on average, older age and African American race were associated with higher risks while female gender was associated with lower risks. However, individual-level impact scores of age showed that age was a more impactful risk factor in younger patients and in older patients with fewer comorbidities. The individual-level impact scores of gender and race variables had a wide span covering both positive and negative values. The interaction scores between the demographic variables showed that the interaction effects were minimal compared to the impact scores associated with them. In conclusion, the DNN model is able to capture the non-linear relationship between the risk factors and the adverse outcome, and the impact scores and interaction scores can help explain the complicated non-linear effects between the demographic variables and the risk of the outcome.